When asking a classroom full of first graders what the term sustainability means, I especially liked the answer I got from a thoughtful 6-year-old: “Sustainability is like not just keeping my own desk neat, but keeping the whole school nice because it belongs to everyone.”
Thinking of her school as the commons or the shared resources that we must all work together to preserve and enhance is a great image for sustainability in our schools. It’s also a reminder to me, that kids get it.
Children, if given a chance, can be the strongest advocates for environmental change. They want to make a difference in the world. And in turn, schools and school administrations have a big responsibility.
Schools play a special role as places of learning to help students understand their impact on the planet while teachers empower them to take responsibility for their own future which is an important step in their education.
Launch of Certification Program to Advance Sustainability in Schools
After five years of growing the Sustainable Jersey program for New Jersey’s 565 municipalities (74 percent of New Jersey municipalities are now participating), we are humbled and excited to announce that today we are taking another leap of faith with the launch of the sustainability certification program for New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools.
At the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) Workshop 2014 in Atlantic City, Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director and I will be joined on-stage by the key leadership from eight partner organizations to announce Sustainable Jersey for Schools.
Our partners bring extensive expertise with the public school community in New Jersey and are an integral part of a comprehensive coalition of educational organizations and academic, business and state agency partners that helped develop and vet the certification program actions.
The partners include: New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey Parent Teacher Association, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association and the Sustainability Institute at The College of New Jersey.
Like the municipal program, Sustainable Jersey for Schools provides a rigorous yet doable roadmap for achieving a comprehensive sustainability program — in this case for schools.
The certification application is based on a selection of 87 actions in 17 categories that quite simply, eliminate the time consuming process of trying to put together a sustainability program by finding the information piece by piece. Participating schools earn points for certain actions, such as performing energy audits, integrating sustainability into student learning and boosting recycling efforts.
The program will help schools improve efficiency, cut waste and contribute to students’ education in the key areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as STEM education.
Good for the Environment and Saves School District Millions
And, sustainable practices are not only good for students; they also can result in efficiencies and cost savings in energy, water and garbage bills.
Forward thinking schools in New Jersey have already begun to move in this direction. Since 2007, when the Galloway Township Public School District started tracking and implementing energy management programs, it has had energy savings of over $4.5 million. The energy reduction impact is equivalent to over 1,800 passenger cars not driving for one year. These savings are significant for a school district and can free up much needed money for the classroom.
The Montgomery Township Public School district has two elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. The district has installed solar in four out of five of the schools and in August generated 40 percent of their electric use from this clean, renewable resource, thereby displacing use of energy from less sustainable sources.
Who Should Get Involved?
The formation of a “green team” is the first step in establishing a school sustainability program after registering. Green teams leverage the skills and expertise of team members to develop plans, implement programs and assist with educational opportunities that support the creation of a sustainable school.
A green team may include:
- School board representatives to provide the vision, leadership, authority and access to resources needed to implement a wide range of sustainability plans, programs or projects in the school district.
- A district business administrator as he/she manages the budget, purchasing and cost-saving programs that the school district may pursue which is needed for sustainability projects.
- Teachers and school leadership to assist with school sustainability planning and to play key roles in developing or delivering initiatives or incorporating education for sustainability into the classroom
- School facility manager because he/she has direct technical responsibility for managing the school’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems and school maintenance as well as the school’s integrated pest-management program. The facility manager is also a crucial partner in a wide range of indoor air quality issues.
- Students are the core reason for integrating sustainability into the school learning environment and can be a vibrant part and advocates for many of the program actions.
- Custodians play an important day-to-day role in supporting a healthy school environment through green cleaning, recycling and managing indoor air quality and environmental risks.
- Health officers and school nurses’ roles in student and staff health and wellness are expanding as asthma, childhood obesity, mental health, substance abuse and other issues continue to impact student performance.
- Food service staff can help incorporate school gardens, farm-to-school programs, recycling and waste reduction activities, as well as promoting healthy eating campaigns into food service operations.
- Parent-teacher organizations/associations provide leadership with parents in the school community and can advocate and support new school programs ranging from school gardens to waste reduction programs and school community educational programs.
- Parents are important champions for a wide range of new programs and can bring additional resources and expertise to the school green team.
- Community groups, businesses and nonprofits such as cultural and arts organizations, health advocates and hospitals, environmental and stewardship organizations, gardening and health food advocates, transportation organizations, and green businesses can be excellent green team members. These groups are frequently well connected to the community and can generate resources to help the program succeed.
- Municipal green team liaisons will be local experts who can help schools complete actions or provide tips and tricks on how they completed similar program actions for the municipal certification program.
- Fleet managers and drivers play an important role in anti-idling campaigns, fleet management and partnering on safe routes to school programs.
To get started in the program, a school board must adopt a resolution of participation and then register at the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website. Then each school in that district may register on the program website. The website provides the list of sustainability actions and implementation tools available. There is no fee for the certification, the use of the program tools or participation in the training workshops.
Donna Drewes is one of the principals that founded and now co-directs Sustainable Jersey. She is a professional planner with nearly 30 years of experience in sustainable development and natural resource management planning.